This is a video installation work, in which an American field research scientist character performs experiments to prove the insubstantiality of political barriers from a natural law perspective. The video was produced on location at the fence on the closed border between Armenia and Turkey.
Happy to announce that this project will screen at the Oaxaca FilmFest at 8pm on October 8, 2019!
THE TREE SPA FOR URBAN FOREST HEALING uses the steam generated as a byproduct of the maple syrup evaporation process. Participants take the healing waters of the trees and discuss important matters affecting our communities, in the relaxing social space of a steamroom, while drinking tree juice from the maple trees growing nearby. The Tree Spa is based in Keney Park, in the North End of Hartford, Connecticut, a neighborhood with a poverty rate near 50%.
In winter of 2017/2018 we built a mobile sugar shack, tapped trees in Keney park and at schools and residences in Hartford, and ran a series of tree-tapping workshops for area kids in collaboration with with Knox Parks. In addition, we did a series of discussions about decolonization and land connection with students from the University of Hartford.
The steamroom portion of the Tree Spa premiered at the Artspace CWOS festival, in October, 2018. In March, 2019 we visited Real Art Ways in Hartford for a two week installation and series of events, along with tree tapping workshops at Keney Park and public schools in Hartford. In March of 2020, we are scheduled to visit the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, as a part of their Weather Report exhibition. We are interested in bringing this project to other venues within the maple producing region, please reach out if you are interested in hosting us.
This drawing from 2016 represents the seed of the TREE SPA idea.
I’ve been toying with this research ever since about 2010 when I wrote a piece called We Common. At the time I was living in New York City and covertly tapping trees in city parks, among many other foraged food sharing experiments.
Custom infrastructure for tree juice sharing in public spaces: bucket with a custom spigot and paper cup dispenser.
There are a lot of great things about the tree juice gathering lifestyle. One of the best is that you are active during the coldest time of the year, which is great for mental and physical health. It also means you get to experience magic like seeing the crocuses come up in your footprints where your body heat has literally melted the snow and warmed the Earth.
I made a rocket stove which has been useful for finishing and bottling the syrup. Rocket stoves are an incredible example of appropriate technology that allow you to boil water (or tree juice, or soup, or whatever you want) using a mere handful of twigs or scrap wood.
At Hartford Art School, we used to make the syrup in plein air, right under the old sculpture gantry, utilizing a 2′ x 6′ wood-fired evaporator I purchased used in 2016. It was a good time, we got some publicity for the University too, which they of course loved, when the local TV news covered the story. We had a really fun BYOB (Bring Your Own Batter) pancake competition when the syrup was ready.
Originally commissioned by Artspace, Inc, for City-Wide Open Studios with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Connecticut Office of the Arts. There has been additional funding from Macktez Summer Stipend, Real Art Ways, and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.
On October 14, 2017, I did a project for Skowhegan Performs at Socrates Sculpture Park, in Queens. For this performance I gathered wild plants from the park and cooked them on a small homemade rocket stove I had brought with me, to produce a magic potion. I told participants that drinking this potion would aid in the decolonization process that we so desperately need to go through, and served it to them. The plants in the magic potion included mulberry leaf, pine needles, rose hips, rose petals, mint, sumac, and mugwort. It tasted pretty good too.
COLONIZATION is EATING US UP: a WILD TEA PARTY
A performance project using the edible wild plants growing around the park. I harvest them and explain to people what they are, as I prepare them and infuse them in water for tasting as WILD TEA. I make a brief speech about the colonization of indigenous lands by settler societies, and the historical justification of these morally bankrupt actions, through reference to the idea of finding a “promised land” for Christian people on this continent. Colonization has an etymological relation to digestion, which I draw upon in my speech, in order to make clear the truly hideous gluttony of our contemporary consumer society. I challenge participants to take on a practice of occasional fasting, to remind us viscerally of our decisive power to choose decolonization actions over remaining subdued by the restrictive potentialities of a worldview into which we have all been indoctrinated, known generally as western civilization. The goal of my performance is to disrupt the hegemonic complicity of the average person in the white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchal empire that we call “the beast,” in whose “belly” we are slowly being digested. After the conclusion of my speech, before each person tastes the WILD TEA offered them, I ask them to make an oath, speaking in unison, repeating after me:
“From this day forward I intend to do everything in my power to decolonize my mind, body, and spirit. I intend to think deeply about the possibility of radical land reform on the land that I occupy, as well as lands occupied by my family and friends, in the interests of respecting the sovereign rights of this land’s indigenous people, who were and are systematically dispossessed, enslaved, killed, assimilated, disappeared, and ignored. Moreover, I intend to stand up and protect lands raped by illegitimate governments, which extract resources for the benefit of false profiteers, which look to false prophets for their moral authority. I intend, by cooperating with my friends and neighbors of all kinds, to find a way to rip a gaping hole in the colon wall of the beast of empire that has us stewing in the digestive juices of its belly. As I take this WILD TEA into my insides, I also allow inside me the possibility of freeing myself, along with everyone else, from the bondage of civilized society, that I have complied with so meekly until now. This has been through no fault of my own, but rather out of a gripping fear for my safety, under the constant threat of a violent, military state that dominates and subdues us all. This WILD TEA is a MAGIC POTION, which reminds me of my wild animal soul, buried deep inside, that longs for me to unleash it upon the world. May this MAGIC POTION protect us all, and give us courage, in the endless struggle for justice, peace, and love that looms before us.”
After my 26 mile walking performance, Mapping the Audible Dominion of the Mission Church Bells, I began leading group walks of public spaces to think about the private property ownership structure we live within. Here are a few images from the first two walks, which were part of a “Day of Action” at Emmanuel College in October, 2017. We circled counterclockwise around the bell tower at the Catholic college where these young people study, performing three widening circumambulations and talking about evidence of the history of the colonization of this land (the homeland of the Massachusett Indigenous Peoples), as we encountered it along the way.
During these walks we carried sticks with which we banged on fences, making a kind of music, almost as though we were ringing bells of our own, as a form of permanent revolution against the control and legal structure of church & state represented by the church bells and the fences alike.
We also did some innocuous trespassing on posted private property, for the same reason; a simple transgression, but with great symbolic power in the individual imagination.Each of these Walks for Decolonization was two hours long, marked by bells ringing from the tower we orbited around at the start, middle, and end. I invited participants to react to the ringing of the bells however they liked. We knelt down for the first one, spun in circles for the middle, and played dead for the last, in honor of the ongoing genocide of indigenous peoples in this land.
Seven Widening Widdershins Circumambulations for Decolonization (How to Get to Know This Land)
On August 3rd and 4th, 2017, I performed a 26 mile walk, which I have mapped out here, circumambulating nine times counter-clockwise around the beautiful Mission Church in the present-day Mission Hill neighborhood of the traditional homeland of the Massachusett people (greater Boston, Massachusetts, USA). At the time I was living in the neighborhood, as a resident artist at Emmanuel College, a private Catholic liberal arts school. My idea was to map the sphere of influence of the church bells, which ring out over the neighborhood every 15 minutes. I got the idea because the bells would wake me up in the morning through my bedroom window, which was a pleasant enough alarm clock, if a little invasive. For this performance, I intended to widen my course with each loop around the church, never recrossing my path, until I circled it seven times, or until I could no longer hear the bells, whichever felt right. A summary of my research informing this project follows.
In English folklore, it was believed that to go around a church anti-clockwise or “widdershins,” as I did, was unlucky. For example, take the fairy tale of “Childe Rowland, where the protagonist and his sister are transported to Elflandafter his sister runs widdershins round a church.” This superstition was bound up in the long history of the spread of a Christian worldview to people of other belief systems, including so-called pagan and animistic spiritualities. These terms come from the nowadays discredited social evolutionist discourse of early anthropology, which takes monotheism and science as the culmination of social evolution in so-called civilized societies, in contrast to the beliefs of so-called primitive societies. Our contemporary pop-culture notions of elves and fairies are remnants of belief systems that existed in Europe before conversion to Christianity happened, and remain important to some people. In Ireland’s traditional spirituality, for example, fairies are known as theaos sí or the Tuath(a) Dé Danann. Non-Abrahamic (Judeo/Christian/Muslim) belief systems are still vital for many indigenous peoples around the world, who have successfully survived centuries of genocidal and assimilationist policies, and maintain their commitment to practicing traditional cultural and spiritual beliefs.
Christendom’s specific role in the colonization of the Americas and the ongoing genocide of the indigenous inhabitants is indisputable, and tragic. The various Catholic Popes of the 1400s and 1500s issued numerous papal bulls (declarations) in support of colonial land claims by European royal powers, including the Spanish and Portuguese imperial projects, laying the foundation for the colonization, Christianization, enslavement, and genocide of the “new world,” as well as Africa. These papal bulls make up what is known in the U.S. judicial system as the Doctrine of Discovery, which has been cited in decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as 2005. The important precedent case of Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823) forms the basis of all Federal Indian law and settler property claims. This landmark case has been cited in numerous land disputes regarding treaty claims by Native American Nations ever since. These matters are thoroughly elaborated in the works of indigenous legal scholars Steven Newcomb and Robert J. Miller.
Additionally, the ongoing genocide of colonized native peoples has been carried out by individual settlers, by policies of settler governments, and by the assimilative drive of Christian churches, particularly in the history of residential boarding schools and missions work. Many progressive Christian groups have joined indigenous groups in calling for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery in recent years. For instance, in 2014, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (which represents about 80% of Catholic nuns in the U.S.) passed a resolution stating, “We humbly and respectfully ask Pope Francis to lead us in formally repudiating the period of Christian history that used religion to justify political and personal violence against indigenous nations and peoples and their cultural, religious, and territorial identities.” However, in 2015 Pope Francis canonized the controversial Spanish Missionary Junipero Serra, to the dismay of many indigenous people of California, who view him as the architect of their peoples’ genocide, and the destruction of their languages and cultures; a far cry from saintly behavior indeed.
Despite the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the U.S. was one of only four countries to vote against, and much progress in the growing transnational indigenous rights movement, indigenous people remain among the most marginalized and ignored groups in many settler societies, including the U.S. and Canada. Indigenous cultures, ways of life, and sovereignty remain under constant threat from the culturally hegemonic neoliberal white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy, managed by the elites that rule our world. Additionally, the facts of the genocide of indigenous peoples remain painfully under-recognized by citizens and governments of settler societies. The decolonization of indigenous lands and peoples is an ongoing project of indigenous rights activists and allies around the world. These indigenous leaders dispute the claim that we live in a “post-colonial” era, following the deconstruction of European colonies in Asia and Africa in the mid-20th century. The fact is, colonialism is alive and well in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia, to name just a few of the biggest offenders, as evidenced in current dealings with indigenous peoples inside their borders.
My small action of walking against the direction of the clock is in solidarity with the Bolivian government’s 2014 adoption of a “decolonization clock” running counter-clockwise, as a sign of their commitment to the indigenous population of the nation, as well as upending Eurocentric northern-hemispheric domination. As Bolivia’s foreign minister, David Choquehuanca remarked, “Who said clocks always have to run the same way? Why do we always have to be obedient? Why can’t we be creative?”
I take this action in denial of normative hegemonic notions of property ownership, reflected in the legal structures of Federal, State, and local governments. I trespass frequently and with great enthusiasm on my walk.
Ultimately, I take this action with the deeply-felt intention of reversing the colonization of my mind, body, and spirit; as well as holding intention for decolonization of the land I walk, and of the people I meet along the way.
I imagine organizing and performing future group “Walks for Decolonization,” in the tradition of the Situationist dérive and in solidarity with Indigenous Walking Tours taking place today in Canada, embodying a commitment to unravelling the mess we’re in, through an active practice of looking, listening, and engaging in social discourse on these pressing matters.
With any luck, or rather unluck (in this uncivilizing process I embark upon, feeling it to be my uncivic duty as an uncitizen), I might even get to visit Elfland sometime soon :) …or at least, to begin to really know this land that I call home.
(2 hours 15 minutes)
(7 minute excerpt)
This was a two-channel video installation with additional objects, placed in a public hallway at Emmanuel College, a small Catholic liberal arts college in Boston, Massachusetts, after the action described above. The work includes the video documenting my decolonization walk and a playlist of youtube videos I curated of indigenous leaders and scholars as well as Christian allies working to undo the impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery. The space was set up as a lounge for students to hang out and watch the videos, while playing “We Are the 99% Chess,” for which I had redesigned the rules of chess and created a takeaway printed chessboard, as well as an assortment of scholarly reading materials related to the content of the videos.
This installation consists of a 5′ x 8′ print on paper, a collection of carved wooden block sculptures of various sizes, a set of chess pieces whittled from twigs, a dried common mullein plant, a representation of a monumental roadside religious pilgrimage site built by a distant cousin of mine, my grandmother’s drawing of a piece of driftwood, and the actual piece of driftwood. The matrices from which the print was made are carved and engraved on the set of sculptural blocks. Some are patterns, others contain images and/or words, while still others are typographic sets of letters and punctuation marks in two different sizes. I have been carving this series of blocks and printing them in various combinations since 2005. For awhile I was doing street performances using the blocks, in a project I called Footprint Factory, and they were also a part of A Work of Art.
The chess pieces are arranged such that all the high ranking pieces have not moved from where they started, but the pawns are gathered at the center of the board, as though conspiring together around a long feasting table laden with food.
The message in the patterned, quilt-like patchwork of prints reads as follows: “
WE’VE WORKED SO HARD FOR YOU
BUT KEEP YOUR MONEY, HONEY-!
TAKE IT, & HIDE IT SOMEPLACE
WE DON’T REALLY NEED IT:
WE ARE RICH IN LOVE
When I was young, my family, like the vast majority of families that share this planet, did not have a lot of money. We struggled to get by in those days, and in some ways we still do. Although we lacked financial resources, we had another kind of wealth. We had love for each other, for the land where we lived, for our neighbors, and for people and places far away. This work considers the immense, immeasurable value of love, in contrast to the quantifiable, comparatively meager value of money. The distance between these understandings of existence is enormous, and yet overlaps succinctly in each person’s life.
I produced this work while I was in retreat from the world at Phats Valley residency in Truro, Cape Cod in December, 2013.
I made a small skin-on-frame boat as a magic tool for exploring my cultural heritage. I was thinking a lot about my Irish ancestors and about an ancestor on my paternal grandmother’s side. My Grandma Helen’s Great Grandmother was a Native American woman named Christine Periord from Hawkesbury, Ontario. That’s all we know about her. No tribe information, nothing. All lost in the shifting sands of cultural assimilation. So I kind of made this boat as a very indirect way of finding out more about her.
I lashed the frame of willow saplings and split locust gunwhales together with nylon sailmaker’s twine. The form is similar to a very foreshortened Irish Currach.
I skinned the boat with canvas salvaged at the town dump, sewn to fit the form of the hull and lashed to the frame in the style of an Umiak.
I made driftwood scraps into seats and flooring and lashed in place.
The hand stitching on the canvas was laborious but rewarding.
Ann Chen helped with the stitching, and also encouraged and supported the entire project.
The boat is light enough for me to easily carry it on my back.
The canvas is coated with tar for waterproofing.
We tried it in the salt marsh in Truro, by the house where I was staying. Our neighbor Rich asked us to retrieve a red plastic trash can that had drifted in and gotten stuck in the marsh grass. We got it back to him in no time.
I also made a small hand-stitched photocopied book in an edition of 31, documenting my research and building process, and incorporating a new set of 6 woodblock carvings and engravings, as well as some drawings and a bibliography. Copies of the book are for sale in the Emporium. Read on to view the full contents.
I built a small weatherproofed shed and installed it in New Haven as part of A Lot in Our Lives in 2007. I made custom clapboards for the sides, little round windows, and a miniature orange door, and I put asphalt roofing on it. It was pretty sturdy.
Inside the shed was lined with bookshelves and had a parquet floor. I filled it with old books and made signs that explained people could borrow the books and put other books back, or return the ones they had borrowed. The books mostly seemed to go out and not come in that much. But I organized with a literacy advocacy group to restock the library with books throughout the summer. We ended up removing the door, because the staff at Artspace, who I was collaborating with, were concerned that a child could get trapped inside there with the door closed and not be able to get out.
At the end of the summer, I had to pack up everything I had installed in New Haven. But over the following winter I began doing some heavy organizing work to make it a big going concern in New York City. I had this great angle on it, using a loophole in public space regulation that allows the proliferation of newsracks everywhere. Why not a non-corporate version in the form of little public libraries? I mean I was writing grants, making models, planning budgets, talking to city agencies, recruiting librarians. I thought maybe I was going to create a non-profit organization or something and spend my life building miniature libraries all over the world. I got pretty worked up about it, I really did.
Well, it didn’t happen. The grants didn’t come through, and I moved on to some other projects for awhile that were more immediately accomplishable. But it stayed in the back of my mind over the years, and I kept struggling with the idea.
We made some more tests now and then, little temporary guerilla style libraries. Most of them were rapidly removed. One was burned. Yep, street library arsonists, they’re out there. Who knew?
That was kind of discouraging. But also kind of cool: at least we had gotten a rise out of somebody! I just couldn’t give this idea up though, it haunted me for years. For awhile I was even living in this imaginary utopian city, and I brought the library with me…
Eventually that first library I had built ended up back on the streets, in Brooklyn. Instead of making it fit into newsrack regulations, we put it on wheels and locked it up to a signpost, just as you would do with a bicycle. Gabriela Alva from Eyelevel BQE became co-librarian with me and we had it out by her spot in East Williamsburg for a year or two. This time we had a combination lock on it, and if you wanted to use it you just had to know the combo (B-O-O-K). That worked really well, people respected the contents much more than when it was wide open.
We have some good children’s books in there for all the kids. Plus some neat comics, artsy books, ‘zines, odds and ends. Gabriela documented the stuff for awhile and made a blog showing the collection. Last I knew, the library was still operational, although we had to move it again, to the corner of Bogart and Harrison, near the Morgan Avenue L station and NurtureArt, but I have to confess it’s been awhile since I visited it. Hunt it down if you’re interested. Anyway, that kind of got me back into doing the libraries guerilla style and figuring out other strategies for placing them on the sidewalk without getting permission. It’s a neat kind of mental chess game against the government regulations.
For example, this one is disguised as a bench attached to a tree guard. The city parks department actively encourages citizens to put up these tree guards and cultivate the soil in the street tree beds. The city doesn’t have the resources budgeted to do regular maintenance on all the street trees, so it’s left to the citizens to do a lot of it. That’s why you see so many different versions of tree guards around. Often when a building is renovated they will landscape the sidewalk in front of the building too, including planting new trees, and adding tree guards, mulch, etc. Sometimes outside coffee shops or other restaurants they will build a bench type tree guard like this to sort of expand their seating area out onto the sidewalk.
This one was built in Crown Heights, on Franklin Avenue and Park Place, outside of a community center called Launchpad. The guy who started Launchpad had planted the tree, and he was all for having a tree guard around it like this, so it worked out well. I gave the library a seed collection of books related to nature, gardening, and farming to go along with the tree theme. I also built it in part to say thanks for my inclusion in 5x5x5, a project started by Nora Herting and Ann Chen, in which they grew vegetable gardens in Nora’s Backyard in exchange for art work. Nora lived around the corner from the Launchpad site.
I also built these twin abandoned payphones into libraries. They were right next to Ann Chen’s parents’ place in lower Manhattan. I made plexiglass doors for them, and they were used for awhile. Then eventually the parking lot they were in got turned into something else, so they were removed.
This little one was in East Harlem for awhile, and was maintained by Christine Licata while she worked at el Taller Boricua. But then she changed jobs, so the library had to go. It was a planter with plants growing in it, that had a drawer where you could share recipe cards and seed packets.
The Word Up Collective decorated this one and used it for mobile book sharing and outreach for their local bookstore/community center hybrid. If you live uptown in Manhattan you really should hang out at Word Up, it’s a super cool place.
I have slowed down on the library project now, since moving back to rural Connecticut. I felt okay letting it go, especially knowing that another group, Little Free Libraries, was doing lots of organizing around pretty much exactly the same thing. They really have their stuff together. If you’re interested in making a micro-library in your community you should do it! It’s easy, can be made from scraps you’ll find lying around, and it’s a great way to use up some of your creative energy. There are lots of ideas on the Little Free Libraries site, and some strategies you might try on this site too. Hooray books!
This is a work I made at theCenter for Book Arts in 2012 when I was a resident artist there. It consists of thirty-six woodcuts and wood engravings from all six sides of six handmade type-high (0.918″) blocks of maple, with an original narrative text & list poem handset in lead Caslon Antique type, letterpress printed in seven colors on a paper booklet & fold-out broadside. For sale in theEmporium of Real Things.
Ted Efremoff organized a show called Insite/Out in June 2012 at Artspace, New Haven, CT. For two weeks I lived and worked in the gallery along with artists James Sham, James Holland, Rebecca Parker, andAriana Jacob. For me, this was a return to a neighborhood in which I had previously done a major project (A Lot in Our Lives). I had also grown up going to punk shows around the corner at a club called the Tune Inn that is no longer around. The neighborhood has been gentrifying and developing a lot since I’ve known it, due to its proximity to Yale and the downtown New Haven Business Improvement District.
I had been working on my Odd Jobs business card parody book around the time of these events, so I put a copy of it up in the window, along with some signs, trying to get hired, but nothing really panned out from that. So I ended up putting myself to work.
I worked on the street trees right outside the gallery where we were living. They all seemed to be dying, so I aerated their roots by removing the cobble stones that were crowding them, added some mulch, pruned off dead branches, and built little tree guard fences around them using the dead branches I had removed. I called it the Dead Branch Memorial Tree Guards.
Meanwhile, I was doing a lot of foraging for wild edible and medicinal herbs in the city parks around New Haven, continuing a practice of amateur botany I’ve developed over the years, (see also: MOBILIZE the Portable Pantry, We Common, and A Boat for Christine Periord). I dried the herbs and used the cobbles I had salvaged from the street tree beds to set up a table for having Wild Tea Parties with whoever happened to pass by.
This is not just any old business card, but a parody of one, which opens out to an accordion-fold book with a very long, very irreverent list-poem of every job or identity construct I have ever had in my life. I made this book while I was a resident at the Center for Book Arts in New York, using hand set lead type on a Vandercook letterpress, in three press runs. It is printed on lightweight chinese tissue paper with a cardstock cover. I put a pretty insane amount of hours into producing these books, which are in an edition of 200. The typesetting and printing alone took several hundred hours, not to mention the cutting and folding of each one. It sort of became a marathon meditation on how changeable identity is and how we present ourselves in all these different complex ways depending on the situation. Doing all that work to produce this ridiculous thing with highly questionable use value was somehow therapeutic, and appropriate, in thinking about the choices and sacrifices we make for the sake of the holy dollar or whatever.
3 3/8″ x 2″ x 3/32″ (closed), 3 3/8″ x 52″ x 1/64″ (open). 2012. Edition of 200. For sale on a sliding scale depending on your income, at the Emporium of Real Things. Barter is also a possibility: contact me. The info is on the business card.
Click on the long skinny image at the left two times to make it big enough that you can read it.
Drypoint illustration, with pen and oak gall ink script on paper. Made while in residence at the Center for Book Arts in 2012. The text is a fragment from the poem “Wilderness,” by Carl Sandburg. 5 1/2″ x 6 3/4.” There is one copy for sale in theEmporium.
This was the final phase of the Pulling Together / Legends of Willimantic project I organized with Ted Efremoff. During the intervening years the boat was stored under a tarp at my parents’ house. We used it once or twice at Alexander’s Lake, where we go every year for vacation, but mostly it just sat there. Then one time I recklessly left the boat tied out in a lake during a bad thunderstorm and it got wrecked pretty badly against some rocks. There was a huge split all along the bottom plank, by the keel. So we had to decide whether to fix it or do something else with it.
In the end, we installed it as a sculpture at the I-Park Foundation, an artist’s residency program, land-based sculpture park, and alternative cemetery in East Haddam, Connecticut. We named this iteration of the project Weighing Anchor. Ted and I worked with James Holland and Johnnie Walker to brand a text into the sides of the boat, explaining the adventures we’d had with it. Then, we cut away the bottom of the boat, and planted a white pine inside it, to symbolically replace the tree that had been cut and milled for the planking.
Finally, we landscaped the area around our boat to create a fire pit and stone field, trying to make the site inviting as a place to sit and share stories. An invitation to use the space for storytelling was also branded into the side of the boat. It is our hope that the site will be used by residents and visitors for years to come, as the tree matures and the boat gradually decays back into the landscape.
I made a new set of woodblock prints around the time we were working on installing the boat at I-Park, thinking about the life of a project, the many lives it touches and connects, and how it can be sad when it comes to an end. In the context of I-Park’s Thanatopolis, a proposed alternative cemetery, the leaving of the boat was like a burial rite for our project; a project that had been so much about action and adventure, now finally coming to rest. Later, I made a watercolor painting of the boat in the style of an illuminated manuscript, with a stylized tree for a mast, sailing over the ocean, with a varied crew of friends. I wrote the text with oak gall ink that I made myself, and gold leafed the tree trunk. This painting was part of my residency work at the Center for Book Arts and it was exhibited there in 2012.
This work imagines what it would be like to convene an inter-species committee about the monumental environmental crises we face on Earth. The acronym, C.R.I.E.R.S., stands for “the Committee for Relentless Inquiry into the Earth’s Regretful Situation.” Click on the image to view it bigger so you can read it.
Handset letterpress, original text, four color reduction woodcut, additional marks made in homemade oak gall ink and storebought shellac paint. Printed at the Center for Book Arts in 2012. Edition of 15 deluxe four color, plus 45 single color. 14 1/2″ x 11″. For sale at the Emcee C.M. Emporium.
In the winter of 2009-2010 I was working on how to collect Sycamore (London Plane) sap from all the street and park trees in New York, and boil it down for Sycamore syrup, which reportedly is like maple syrup, but a little more “mediocre.”
Cloud City is an imagined utopia somewhere out there… A collaboration with Huong Ngo and numerous participants…
1. Before the Revolution
In the days before our independence was won, people would wake up in the morning and look out the window or turn on the radio, and already they would know exactly what was going to happen that day. Everything was excruciatingly boring in those days. No surprises, no mysteries, no suspense. It was a vapid, mechanical way of life. Every day, we dressed appropriately. We brought an umbrella at 30%, we wore rubber boots at 70%, and at 100% we just stayed home. Our picnics and vacations were planned to the utmost detail, cancellations performed days if not weeks in advance. Weather reports ruled our lives.
Bit by bit, a small enclave of dissenters formed.
“No more!” said the little boy with silver hairs of lightning to his father who forced him to wear a raincoat.
“No more!” said the little girl with a heart of thunder to her mother, who insisted she stay indoors and play with her dolls.
The two brave souls ventured out, unintimidated by the slight possibility of a sudden thunderstorm with a chance of hail. They told the gentle man with a mustache of blue who ran the corner store, the little old lady with twinkly toes who tended her garden below, and even some local toughs stealing rainbows from the sky. No more would they endure the oppression of predictable weather patterns. The gentle man with a mustache of blue, the old woman with twinkly toes, and even the toughs with hearts in their eyes took to the streets, following the little boy and the little girl, and thus the revolution began.
2. The Commune
It started out harmlessly enough. A few puddle jumpings here and there, quietly, when no one was looking. But gradually these rebels were forced to adopt harsher tactics, in the face of rapidly increasing consistency. Rain dances quickly became blood baths. Umbrellas were booby-trapped and sunglasses outfitted with sophisticated tracking mechanisms. There were many such examples of grotesque terror – even suicidal monsoon missions that left many a father and mother weeping buckets.
The corner store on Eagle Street, run by the gentle man with the mustache of blue, became their regular meeting place. Under the cover of night, Lightning and Thunder (as the little boy and girl came to be called), clapped and banged at the back door of the shop, signaling their arrival. Every week, there were new recruits. One meeting in particular our elders still remember well. The forces were joined that night by Dew and Frost, who nearly disappeared in the heat of the glowing fire whilst removing their cloaks.
The girl with a heart of thunder spoke first. “You have all risked much to come here, but is it not adventure, excitement, life – real life – that we seek in our rebellion from our former boring existence?”
This gave the group pause. The little boy with lightning hairs spoke next:
“The rain can only touch those with fire in their hearts!”
The message was enigmatic, but effective. The room filled with applause. Committees formed and important goals were drawn:
We must vanquish Predictability!
We must defeat Boredom!
We must restore Impermanence!
We must replace all the ice cream bars in our host’s freezer case! We’ve eaten him clean out of stock what with all these planning meetings!
The growing band of guerilla revolutionaries, our esteemed forebears, became obsessed with their quest for spontaneity to be reintroduced to the lifeways of the earth. As their wills hardened, their organization grew denser and more cunning. An immense network of spies and informants spread out from the commune on Eagle Street that was the heart and soul of the project for a future of free floating. Eventually the web of dissent covered the entire globe like a dense fog, continuously shifting with the breezes and tides, adopting new sympathizers and strategies with the speed of an avalanche.
3. Civil War
At last, the leaders of the newly christened Organization For The Ideological Supremacy And Free Formation Of All Life As Clouds Floating In The Blue Sky (OFTISAFFOALACFITBS) declared all out war on the pervasive systems of attention to detail that subjected them to such intolerable exactness.
Alas, the revolutionary group quickly grew far too large, and it was plagued by incestuous bickering. New leaders had emerged through the complex process of global expansion, and any notion of the sanctity of life had long since ceased to concern them. Plus their acronym was pretty hard to remember.
Frost (along with Dewdrop, his squint-eyed lackey) was the leader of one extremist faction forging artificial glaciers across the entire Southern Hemisphere and even venturing into warm valleys elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Sunbeam the Wicked, as he was called, developed ever grimmer reflectivity technologies with which to terrorize the poles and mountaintops.
The two factions overlapped and undid each other’s work repeatedly in a farce of disgrace. The original ideals the revolutionaries had cherished so long were all but lost in the torrent of violence that pulled them forward with no end in sight.
But the little girl with the rumbling tummy and the little boy with flashing eyes never lost hope. This war was a terrible condition, but if they could just manage to pass through – beyond, across, over away, above – how great the reward must be. Thus they consoled themselves in the darkest hours, when even the flicker and spark of Lightning’s magic hair seemed to be fading.
The little girl fell asleep one night thinking, “Golly gee, if only we could get away from all this somehow. Have a fresh start.”
She had a prophetic dream that night, and in the dream a wise old blackbird with an Illinois accent told her about a place called Cloud City. “To get there all you have to do is clean out the fridge and throw a party to finish up all the leftovers,” croaked the blackbird. “Then sell everything you own, put the money in a ragbag, and go all the way to where the highway runs into the blue sky and then four hundred forty-four and one fourth ways beyond that. Give or take a mile.”
Knowing this the little girl named Thunder set off with the little boy, Lightning, followed by the faithful few: the store owner with the mustache of blue, the old lady with twinkly toes, and the band of toughs.
All of them had their money in ragbags to match their souls. Thunder had a loud rumbly one. Lightning’s was flashy and momentary. The store owner had a fuzzy blue ragbag that smelled of pipe tobacco. The old lady had pink polka dot sequins painted with nail polish on her ragbag. The toughs had plain black and blue ragbags hung on the end of a big stick.
Little Tough-Tough tired out first from swaggering too happily, so the old lady carried him on her belly back and the group moved on. They began to imagine what Cloud City must be like, and realized that each one had a different version!
Thunder saw bell towers clanging on every building and factories banging out drumsets and firecrackers. The streets were lined with balloons to pop as she strolled along.
Silver Lightning saw camera flashes, lines of string connecting person to person, with sparks from the bottom of their shoes that ignited at every step.
The blue mustachioed shopkeeper saw blind blues men with starry eyes on the corners and blue skies reflected in puddles of deep blue rainwater.
The little old lady saw nothing. She was in it solely for the adventure.
And the toughs saw misty dusks and dawns, perfect for ganging up on each other, lurking in alleys, and looking for trouble.
And so, clutching their visions close, they traveled to where the highway met the sky and on through, beyond, across, over away, above, until they came to Cloud City.
This was a wide-ranging project we did in 2009. At the core of it was growing a container garden on the roof of Huong Ngo’s studio.
It was part of an alternative pedagogy project she was organizing called Secret School. We started thinking about all the other secret gardens, the ones that you don’t even know are there, tucked away onto rooftops and hidden in backyards.
So we started organizing tours of the secret gardens. This was an especially cool one made by Brian Trzeciak. Later that summer his garden also hosted some great rooftop saunas that Anna Larson and I organized. Our goal with the tours was to build a community of secret gardeners, in which I’d say we were moderately successful.
We also made some mobile gardens, like this greenhouse built onto a tricycle. We left it locked up on the street and someone put a blue ribbon made out of masking tape on it. That made us very happy.
We made one on a red wagon too. Later on, we made the tricycle one nicer and it was part of a show called Bike Rides at the Aldrich Museum. After that it lived at the Red Shed Community Garden for awhile, and we used it for seed starting.
We were also working on seed saving, using these custom secret seed packets we made. We participated in a seed saving exchange organized by folks from the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, and also made an exhibition of seeds, along with other stuff from the project at NurtureArt, the local non-profit art space in our neighborhood.
Some of the seeds were from wild plants, which I have a special affection for. We made little origami boxes to display them in, and laid them out on a table. It looked like a cityscape. There was also soil in bags down below the table, our trust for the future, and other ephemera. Plus we made a twin watercolor drawing of some radishes we grew, and put that on the wall.
A related work was the Beeline Transit Map, a reimagining of the NYC subway map. It shows the routes that birds, bugs, and bees might take to get around the city, hopping from greenspace to greenspace, to point out how important those spaces are. We drew it by hand with watercolor and pencil.
We displayed a copy of it along with the seed saving stuff, but also had it at Smack Mellon for another art show. It was kind of funny, we hung it high up in the second story window, where it would be really hard for gallery visitors to look at, but easy for birds flying by. However, we did make a small nod to the flightless humans by providing binoculars. We also made a folding pocket-sized version of the map with folding binoculars, which you can buy at the Emporium.
Oh one more thing, there’s an anonymous article in an online magazine called the Highlights. It refers to our map as an example of “crapomimicry,” which apparently is a new word some crazy scientists were trying to get added to the dictionary. We wouldn’t know anything else about that, but if you click on the link and scroll down to “XII” you can read it for yourself.
We worked with a group of collaborators organized by BryanMarkovitz, to create an alternative tour of the Watermill Center in the Hamptons, drawing on various cues and interests of the group, especially the writings of Raymond Roussel. I was feeling pretty negative around that time I think, partly because of some personal stuff, so I kind of had a really overly bad attitude about classist, colonialist, eurocentric, and excessively normative tendencies in some aspects of the situation. Nevertheless, we managed to dress up in silly costumes, dress visitors up in silly costumes, dress up Robert Wilson‘s tribal art collection in silly costumes, make a soap opera about our group of collaborators, make a lot of really good food, laugh, sing songs, and start a band with some elementary school kids called “the Wild Animals.” Good times!
I really appreciate Bryan for including us in his process and for dealing so gracefully with the group dynamics. He has some great images of the project on his website too. The other collaborators were: Elizabeth Adams, Amanda Boekelheide, Ryan Dohoney, Huong Ngo, Julia Rich and Chris Piuma.
I’ve been out riding my tricycle a lot. I found it back in 2004. It was in pieces. I fixed it up, added some bells and whistles, and started riding. I like it, it gets me moving. Doing it. You know, getting into it, active.
In these first few pictures, I’m projecting a film on my back while I’m riding. I call that MOBILIZE: The Moving Picture Show. I’ve projected a lot of Charlie Chaplin films. They’re perfect. No talking, just great spirited music and whacky sound effects. And everybody recognizes him. Sometimes cartoons are good too.
The first two pictures are from New York City, where I lived from 2006-2012. But I started showing movies this way back when I lived in eastern Connecticut, where I grew up. This one was at the Third Thursday Street Festival in Willimantic, CT. I made all these manifestoes on an offset press in the printshop at UConn, and I used to pass them out when I was out riding around. You can buy one in the Emporium if you want, there are still a few left over.
The project tends to be pretty eyecatching and people always ask me what I’m doing. So it’s a good way to break the ice and have a conversation with somebody, about anything, everything. Spontaneously like that. That’s the reason I’ve kept doing it from time to time. I enjoy it, other people enjoy it, and it seems to help bring us closer together.Later I started doing some daytime projects with the tricycle too, as the Moving Picture Show only works when it’s dark out, and frankly riding bikes is more fun during the day.
I built a set of different attachments for it. My friend likes to call them modules. One attachment is for the projector, film repair stuff, popcorn maker, etc. Everything I need for the Moving Picture Show. Another one is for collecting wild plants and cooking, out on the streets.
That’s MOBILIZE: The Portable Pantry. I used it to collect rosehips, crabapples, pine needles, holly leaves, chokeberries, bayberries, and a few other things growing in New York this past winter. I was learning how to identify plants, cook jams, preserve food, and prepare different teas, in order to throw Wild Tea Parties with people.
Sometimes it was a good excuse to climb the street trees, which I think is an underrated activity. This tree on 23rd Street near 8th Avenue had some very late crabapples that were still good in December. I made apple butter from them. Overcooked it a little.
Another attachment is MOBILIZE: The Wandering Workbench. This is a roll-out workshop with a bench vise, work surface, and storage for hand and power tools. I’ve been using it to work immediately on the street, finding material, making Public Domestications (term coined through conversations with Huong Ngo), and installing them on the sidewalks for public use. The Corner Libraries project is a Public Domestication too, as were a lot of the projects in A Lot in Our Lives.
Public Domestications are aimed at making public space more comfortable, more communicative, more equitable, more accessible, and less alienating. They are aimed at making public space ours.
So far, many of them have been about an exchange of some kind.
This is a found pirate costume installed on a coat rack on a construction wall: the yellow rose was contributed by the busker you can see in the background. He was a wizard on the pots and pans, plastic buckets and bits of broken glass, and seemed to be really supportive of my project, which is entirely mutual!
I brought MOBILIZE to the Bronx in the summer of 2008 to do some stuff up there. I had a parking place at the Bronx Museum during June and July for the AIM show.
This was a later phase of the Pulling Together project. Ted Efremoff and I made a concerted effort to reach out to the temporary community of boatbuilders that had formed around the boat initially, and to continue our adventures together in a voyage down the Connecticut river in the summer of 2008. Some folks were not available of course, but Fred Rivard, the historical reenactment enthusiast, and Pat Sold, the stencil t-shirt artist from New Jersey, came along. Johnnie Walker and his family, and my brother Brendan McMullan joined us for parts of the trip too. Despite some bad sunburns we had a great time, camping along the river, telling stories, and feeling free. We made a pretty lengthy video during and after our trip documenting some of the legends we made up, imagined alternative histories of Willimantic, and such. If you’d like to screen the video, let us know, we can arrange something. For the final phase of the project click on to Weighing Anchor.
Something About Temperature & Time, Memory & Moments, Labor, Leisure & Location, Saving & Sharing, Usefulness & Us.
The Sauna by the beach is for everyone here.
It is open from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The schedule will vary somewhat based on whatever else is going on that day. We’ll try to stay on top of posting changes.
Monday is women only day.
Tuesday is men only day.
If you want to use the sauna earlier in the day for some reason please check with Sam or Colin first for a briefing (find us in sculpture yard studios 13 and 14).
The sauna is closed from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. for lake quiet hours. No exceptions. Sorry, night owls.
Try to keep it clean in there, wash your feet, sit on a towel if you want, don’t touch the stove or stove pipe (they are hot), always make sure the fire is out at the end of the night, smoke outside please. In short, common sense.
Thanks to those of us who have volunteered to help run the sauna: Rob, Christopher, Nate, Sean, Christine, Cauleen, Colin and Sam.
We Wish You Easy Steaming
The sauna was used by a lot of people there. Some of the mentor artists had their families there, and they used it. Lots of the younger artists used it. It was a good hangout spot away from the studios.
We made a lot of it from wood we found deconstructing old barns in the area. And the siding inside and out was all cedar slab wood we got for free at sawmills up there. We even made benches out of all that cedar. It smelled fantastic. Building the sauna was a great time, driving around and hauling materials, building, swimming, listening to music, exploring the Maine woods. We made a sweet little postcard window in the door so you could look out at the lake if you felt like it.
There was a good little woodstove in there we were given by the maintenance guy, Bill Holmes. It steamed the place up pretty good when you poured water over the rocks. It felt so great to sweat a lot and then run out the door and dive in the lake. The perfect feeling for the perfect summer. It was a success as a communal gathering place and a functional sauna. So what next? We needed to push it somehow, to make something more out of it. After all, we were at an art school.
So we made these event tickets out of pieces of firewood with a dremel, and left them on the porch where everyone would see them. People took them. And they came to the sauna that night, 10pm, Monday August 6, 2007.
First Brian and Carrie came. They made a great entrance, arriving by water, carrying the log ceremoniously in the air, to keep it dry, and wearing masks like some kind of wild sea creature.
Then Nate and Sandy presented their deconstructed log. It says “Thy pagun loon sweat 2 god.” There were these incredible loon sounds on the lake every night, I remember, they sound like human beings wailing in the distance.
Then Christine and Val put their beautifully painted log on the fire and it burned a magical green color through some weird voodoo they had done to it.
The last log was retained by Sam and me. We had altered it to conceal a mobile phone inside, and while we were looking at the fire, it started ringing. Sam answered it and said, “Oh, Christine, it’s for you.”
It was her mom. I think she was kind of embarrassed, or something. I remember she said “Mommy?!” in disbelief. And then they started speaking in Chinese. But her mom had something to tell her. She told her to find the X, and dig there.
So she did. And what did she dig up? Ice cream!
It was a little melted from being buried awhile, but still delicious. And then we marked everyone with a stamp, that we had also carved into our log, along with the mobile phone. We took a photo of our branded arms together. I really like this photo. It makes me feel like everything is going to work out.
Sam and I also made a video in the sauna, singing a song we had made up to the tune of a Woody Guthrie song from the Mermaid Avenue album. The lyrics make liberal use of hyperbole.
The sauna is still there as far as we know, still being used each summer by the new participants. It was moved away from the lake into the woods, for some reason, but who knows what other stories have taken place there since. At the end of the summer, our pal Katie Herzog organized among the other participants to give us a present, since we had given them the sauna. So they all made art for us, and she collected it into two portfolios and gave it to us as a memento. Thanks Katie, and everyone.
This project in downtown New Haven, Connecticut, ran April through September of 2007. It consisted of a variety of activities centered around a public space called The Lot, sponsored by Artspace. I worked in collaboration with various people around the city who have some relationship to the space, to develop interactive projects to place there. The space is an empty lot that was converted by the city transit department and the local non-profit arts organization (Artspace) into a bus stop/public art exhibition space/public park hybrid. We kept asking ourselves, or at least I kept asking myself, what could we put in this space that would be of some use to the people that pass through this space day to day, waiting for the bus, or whatever. The projects included the following…
The Corner Library, a small lending library built in a waterproofed shed for sharing books and other information:
A small vegetable and herb garden, the Lot Garden Plot:
The Citizens’ Collection Cabinet, which was a shed for the public display of small objects:
A wall of homemade and found musical instruments called Elm City Sound Relief:
The Black and White Wall for Writing, which provided a legal site for graffiti:
The creation of A Lot in Our Lives included collaboration and input from many people. Frank Brescia, Robert Hurd, Henry Loomis, John Singer, Steve Tarquino and Kristina Zallinger co-produced the “Elm City Sound Relief” and collaborated on the design and production of the four hand-painted banners on display. Other artists from Artship of Fellowship Place were also involved in brainstorming and preliminary discussions. Frank Brescia, Henry Loomis and Kristina Zallinger also contributed their energies to “The Lot Garden Plot.” George Newman and I collaborated on “The Citizens’ Collection Cabinet,” which also received input from Huong Ngo and Ted Efremoff. George also worked on the freestanding black and white wall for writing, as did members of Artspace’s Teen Docents program. There have been other contributors who wished to remain anonymous, and many people who changed and added to the projects once they were installed whose names are unknown to me.
Thanks also to Artspace Staff, Carol Brown of the New Haven Free Public Library, Cathy Edwards from the Festival of Arts and Ideas, Cassandra Tucker and Sue Spight of Fellowship Place, and to Mario Luigi Ruggiero of the Artistic Salon on Chapel Street, for inspiration and consultation.
I got the chance to go to Belgrade, Serbia to do a project for an art festival there called “Night of Museums.” I decided to work spontaneously, with whatever materials were at hand, to make an environment that would encourage people to play together as if we were kids. It was moderately successful. There was one kid about 3 or 4 years old, who played with me for a long time. He was way better at playing make believe than I was. We had a castle and a whole kingdom going under that black sheet in the background.
Later we made up a game with these sheets, but I don’t remember how to play anymore. I remember it being fun though.
This was a project I organized with Ted Efremoff. We built this boat in Willimantic, Connecticut, in three weeks. It is a wooden lapstrake canoe with a canvas sail. It was built with the help and participation of about 100 people from the local area.
Several people got so involved that it really became a team and community-building project. The guys in this picture (Sean, Pat and Fred) worked long days with us, contributed ideas and talents, and generally took group ownership over the work. It was unexpected for that to happen, and wonderful.
You see, we had set up the gallery as an open workshop. We got tools and materials together and established hours that anyone could come in off the street and help us figure out how to build this thing. The response was impressive, due in part to some excellent press coverage by Brenda Sullivan from the Broadcaster. We didn’t have any experience building boats before we started, but somehow through trial and error we figured it out together.
Our boat debuted at the local Third Thursday Street Festival on October 19. We had built a cart to haul it on, and a bunch of us pulled it through the street. After dark, there was a video projected on the sail of the Willimantic River. The river runs parallel to Main Street, where we were walking, and is seen by many as an important and underused feature of the town. Willimantic is a classic old New England mill town, down on its luck. Our project was in part striving to create a symbol and a focus for people to help build community and direct attention to the resources at hand.
Emmett, Brendan and Fred crewed the boat’s maiden water voyage on May 7, 2007, at Mansfield Hollow Lake.
At first, the boat was much too light and didn’t sit right in the water, so we filled the bottom with some rocks that happened to be ready and waiting for us there by the shore. This ballast corrected the problem beautifully and it made us feel like we were using the old ways.
Ted, Johnny and Sean look on here as the boys prepare to shove off.
After we saw that no one had drowned on the first trip, everyone wanted to take a spin. On the right of this picture you can see the steer-bar we built to direct the course of our craft.
Here are the six of us, the main shipwrights. From left: Pat, Johnny, Fred, Sean, Ted and Colin.
The wind was gusty and unpredictable, but a few of us couldn’t resist the temptation to test out the sail. We rigged the boat and tested the ropes while on shore.
As you can see, it worked just fine.
We took the boat on a trip down the Connecticut River in June of 2008, spreading Legends of Willimantic as we went.